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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Benton out 2 jobs, but retirement pay awaits

State’s formula provides clues as to his potential compensation figures

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter, and
Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: May 22, 2016, 6:10am

Within a relatively short period of time, Sen. Don Benton found himself out of two jobs.

The longtime Republican senator announced at the end of January he was retiring from the Senate after 22 years to focus on his role as Clark County’s environmental service director. But on May 12, he was let go from his county job after Acting County Manager Mark McCauley announced the elimination of the department.

Benton will have at least one reminder from his state and county jobs: a healthy retirement check.

For three years, Benton’s county salary was about $110,000. His annual legislative pay was recently bumped to $45,474.

The state Department of Retirement Systems does not disclose details of specific retirement accounts, but it does share the formula for determining the benefits. The pension formula is 2 percent of the highest five years’ earnings multiplied by the years of service.

For Benton, that could equal out to about $45,029 a year.

Benton, who will turn 65 in April 2022, would be docked if he drew his retirement early. Other decisions he makes could also impact the amount.

Benton did not return a call seeking comment.

Benton was first elected to the Washington state House of Representatives in 1994 and became a senator two years later. He is enrolled in Plan 2 of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, often called PERS 2.

He made headlines in 2013 when Republican Councilors Tom Mielke and David Madore directed then County Administrator Bill Barron to appoint him to lead the Department of Environmental Services. The controversial decision ended up costing the county $250,000 when it settled a lawsuit with Anita Largent, who was interim director of the department at the time. Largent did not have an opportunity to apply for the position.

Benton lost that job in similarly surprising fashion earlier this month, when McCauley announced that the department was being reorganized as a cost-saving venture. Benton and three other employees in the department are out of jobs, while the rest of the department will be reorganized to Public Works, Public Health and Community Development.

Benton will remain on paid administrative leave through June and will officially be laid off as of July 1. He will cash out about 53 hours of vacation, totaling about $2,800. He will receive no severance package, McCauley said earlier this month.

McCauley has denied that the decision was politically motivated, but he has come under fire as well as praise from some county residents for the action.

The Columbian archives contributed to this report.

Columbian Education Reporter
Columbian Political Writer